Life Lesson From Mom: How to Budget

February 10, 2016

Photo credit: pushlama-iStock-Thinkstock

Mothers can be very clever.

They drop hints about certain gifts they would like or make suggestions about new restaurants the family can try. They also manage to sneak in life lessons without the children realizing what happened.

My mother is a master when it comes to sneaking in lessons. I was raised by a single mother with a single income, yet she somehow managed to never get a late notice for any of the bills and we still had money left over to enjoy the occasional movie.

Every two weeks she would go over the bills that were due and calculate how much was left over from her paycheck. Then she would review the budget with me. Yes, she reviewed the budget with me every two weeks. Imagine, my mother coming to me to review the budget and looking for my input. Ok, she wasn’t really looking for my input. But as a 15-year-old I felt important being a part of the family finances and it helped me to understand the value of a hard earned dollar. I also finally understood why, as a child, I often heard “shut off that light if you’re not going to be in that room!”

I quickly learned the difference between “need” and “want.” As a matter of fact, I learned a lot of lessons about money:

  • Necessities always come first: the roof over my head, utilities, and food.
  • Cable TV may be considered a utility, but it is not a necessity. Sorry kids, but playing outside and listening to the radio are both free.
  • Clothing is a necessity—but the designer jeans that everyone else wears to school are not. (I also learned that the people who care about the label on my jeans are not my friends, but that’s a whole separate life lesson.)
  • If you have an unusual expense coming up in the next two weeks, that also becomes part of your budget, and the money is put aside, not put into your pocket. Good examples are: going out to dinner with friends, or there is a movie being released that you absolutely have to see on opening night because all your friends are going, and you’ll just die if you don’t see it too!
  • Transportation, public or private, is a luxury. We didn’t have a car. We took the bus everywhere or walked. Some of my best memories are walking two miles to get ice cream with my mom. We would talk about everything under the sun on those walks.
  • If a large bill, such as rent, couldn’t be completely paid out of one check then you split the burden between two checks and put that money aside. There was only one rule for dipping into the rent money: DON’T.

My mother gave me lunch money for the week, which I had to personally budget. I would get $15 per week to spend over my five-day school week. We were allowed to go off campus and I learned the less I spent on lunch one day, the more I could spend on lunch the next day. Unfortunately, I also learned that once the money is gone, it’s gone. The first—and only—time I ran out of lunch money too soon my mother’s response was “well, looks like you’re going to have to start packing your lunch until next week.”

When I was dating my now husband, he thought I was a crazy woman because I would do the “silliest things” to save a dollar. I specifically remember us going to a fast food restaurant. Naturally, I whipped out a coupon for $1 off. The look on his face was a combination of “where the heck did that come from?” and “please don’t make me use that.” Fast food was already inexpensive so he asked why I had the coupon. I said, “Fine, you give me a dollar and I’ll give you the coupon. You can do whatever you want with it. Why pay more than you have to?” Today, he asks me if I have any coupons before we pay for anything.

We may have lived paycheck to paycheck when I was young, but it rarely felt like it. I just thought we were being smart with money and making the most of what we had. My mother taught me at to budget my money, save what I could, and start planning for my retirement at an early age so I would no longer have to live paycheck to paycheck. It’s a lesson all children can benefit from.


This post was written by Melissa Bowers, a Senior Administrative Assistant at Colorado PERA. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please email us at